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The Fast (Laugh) Track

Dana Gould has calmed down, but his career is heating up.

September 29, 1998|MARK CHALON SMITH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Orange County hasn't always connected with Dana Gould's special lunacy. There was, for instance, his gig a few years ago at the Brea Improv that left many in the crowd wondering whether they should laugh or give him a group hug.

It was quite a show. Gould served a feast of burnt offerings about his dysfunctional family in an often brilliant performance that left the audience fidgety, clearly uneasy with his revealing humor.

There was, for instance, his cute Christmas tale that abruptly veered into Sam Shepard territory. As the Gould children sat dreaming of Santa Claus in the living room, their mom burst in, blasted on sherry, screaming, "I have a Christmas secret for you. . . . Your father won't touch me any more!"

As the audience shrank, Gould stomped between tables, confronting with mock anger, "I'm trying to give, and you give back!"

Talking recently by phone from his Los Angeles home near the Hollywood Bowl, Gould, 34, recalled that rocky night. "Yes, I think I've fairly recovered," he deadpanned. "I've settled down, I'm so happy . . . and I'm medicated."

The new, successful and medicated (just a joke, by the way) Gould returns Wednesday for a five-night gig at the Irvine Improv. It's been seven years--and a world of changes--since that Brea show.

Gould, who studied communications at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst before turning to comedy, went on to more sympathetic responses at stand-up outposts across the country and had an HBO special in 1992. After that, his one-man show, "Insomnia," drew raves in San Francisco, where he had moved in 1987 from the East Coast. He also received some good notices earlier this year for his co-starring role in the $28,000 independent film "Courting Courtney" and during the last year played the part of Jimmy Clarke in the NBC-TV sitcom "Working," starring Fred Savage.

Although Gould is no longer with "Working"--"I quit before they could fire me," he said--he's still involved with TV, but behind the scenes. Gould co-created "Super Adventure Team," a stranger-than-fiction show on MTV that's like "The Thunderbirds"--if that '60s marionette show for kids had been deep into sex, intrigue and quirky gags.

Gould doesn't like to rest much. He's also fine-tuning another sitcom, tentatively called "The High Desert," which, he said, has been sold to a network--"one of the big five"--and may be on the air next year in the fall.

"My life is split between working stand-up and working in other forms, like writing," he said. "I guess you could say I'm really enjoying myself."

He couldn't say that about his time on "Working." Gould expected more from Jimmy, an office grunt with a big dopey streak. The character's low humor frustrated Gould from the get-go, and he blames himself for much of it.

"Jimmy wasn't really anything, and that was the problem," Gould said. "I wanted to play him as the office smartass, a slicker guy, [but] instead I was in a clown suit, falling off desks. I shouldn't have accepted all that, but I did. I walked away from that unfulfilled."

Gould said he knew NBC was about to fire him, but he says there are no hard feelings. He has only nice things to say about Savage and the rest of the cast, but he isn't optimistic about the series and doubts it will last beyond this season.

Taking His Special Lunacy to Television

So far, things look good for "Super Adventure Team," the half-hour show (Thursdays at 10:30 p.m., MTV) he's been writing and producing with partner Rob Cohen since the beginning of summer. These overachieving, low-tech marionettes solve one crisis after another while exploring their odd relationships.

The action team may have to save the president by defusing a nuclear bomb--as it did in one episode--but everybody's really more worried about the affair Dr. Benton Criswell's wife is having with team leader Col. Buck Murdock.

"We see it as what 'The Thunderbirds' would be if Aaron Spelling made it," Gould said. "It's an action adventure, a puppet soap opera with lots and lots of nudity and crying and sex."

"The High Desert" also figures to be a tad strange. Gould was hard-pressed to describe it but finally said the show "will be a lot closer to 'Twin Peaks' than 'Friends.'

"I'm just really enjoying doing the writing on it, [and] it still has to go through some permutations before we're done," Gould explained. "At this point, I don't really have any vested interest in acting in it, just writing it."

As for his stand-up act, Gould said it has changed since his "angry young man days" in the early '90s. Gould still turns to some of those intimate stories that were his trademark, but he also delivers newer bits he considers more universal.

There's one on job headaches, like the stress of being a bingo caller ("All that pressure . . . old people needing their medicine, looking to you!"). The Los Angeles lifestyle is another target ("L.A. is really a liberal city but hypocritical. There could be a guy in a fur coat and high heels throwing up in a mailbox [and] people would be shouting, 'Is that real fur?' ").

He hasn't, however, abandoned the stuff drawn from his memories growing up in Massachusetts as one of six children--five of them boys--in an Irish Catholic family.

"Most of my family stuff, the really personal stuff, is buried, but some of it is still there," he said. "Now, my act has stuff that isn't just about me. . . . Back then, I was saying everything with a snarl. Now it also comes with a smile."

* Dana Gould opens Wednesday at the Irvine Improv, 4255 Campus Drive. 8:30 p.m. Also 8:30 p.m. Thursday, 8:30 and 10:30 p.m. Friday, 8 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday, and 8 p.m. Sunday. $10-$12. (949) 854-5455.

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